In Mexico, traditions, and legends about apparitions, hidden treasures, and cursed places abound. With that in mind, it'd be absurd to present a short story with elements of the genre as a rare novelty. However, to narrate anecdotes the way they happened, it becomes necessary to bring forward strange or inexplicable data thus risking being labeled as cliché, corny, or plain fictional. Of course, that if you have experienced anything similar you'll easily abstain from just that. But if not, brace for a real account that perhaps will make you question if death is really what we think it is.
Three sisters, Evangelina, Rosa, and Lola lived and ran a sewing workshop in a small village sited at the summit of the Cora Mountains between the Mexican states of Sinaloa and Durango. They sewed clothes, made alterations, and despite having a vintage sewing machine, a gift from a lady neighbor, still the bulk of the work was done manually with needle and thread.
Their diligent work and trustworthiness had earned them a friendly, although reduced, local clientele which gave them meager work not so much out of the need for tailoring services, but as an excuse to help them out financially, so they could make ends meet. Interestingly enough, their attributes proved to be decisive on how the upcoming events were to unfurl.
A wealthy woman, a casual visitor from the nearby coastal area, was referred to them when her attire had a mishap and needed to be repaired on the spot. She was told of the fine quality of work the trio usually produced but was saddened by the extreme poverty in which they lived. Still, she was happy with the final results. Deeply moved, the visitor decided to help them out right then.
She paid them generously for the service rendered and promised to spread the word among her wealthy acquaintances back in San Vicente. Then, on her next visit, Doña Zenaida brought them more clothes of her own to be repaired along with additional orders from her neighbors as promised. Soon, the trio was sewing for a select group from that small coastal city while Doña Zenaida acted as representative traveling back and forth between the small mountain village and the sea-leveled San Vicente. Out of her pocket, she carried ripped clothes uphill to come back down with sewn garments always making sure the girls got their earnings guaranteed.
It wasn't long before the trio had gathered such a sizable clientele that they started to consider relocating now that the majority of customers were in this town. Besides, they wanted to spare Doña Zenaida from her constant traveling. So, the sisters went looking for a space in which to set shop in San Vicente, but high prices made the plan unattainable, and soon they quit their search, to Doña Zenaida's chagrin and frustration.
Without giving up her quest to bring the girls down to San Vicente, Doña Zenaida went the extra mile in search of a viable setting. After having looked around town without success, it was not until a store clerk mentioned the house of Don Romualdo, long deceased, uninhabited for the last 30 years, and up for sale. “But the house is haunted — said the lady clerk — and that's why no one wants to live in it. The few tenants that have paraded through it soon left, terrified by whatever they might have seen there. It's not for rent, it's for sale and even though the price has been reduced no one dares to set foot in it. Do you think they'd still be interested?”. “I don't know. I'm not intending to mention that creepy story to them. Instead, I'll tell them it's rather a great business opportunity!”.
No sooner said than done, on her next visit, Doña Zenaida excitedly told the trio that she had found the perfect home for them, but that they had to purchase since it wasn't for rent. That the price was so reduced that most surely after they had sold their shack in the mountain, combined with their savings, and some extra help they'd be able to buy it. They looked into each other's eyes and, elated and thankful, embraced Doña Zenaida who took good care of keeping to herself what the store attendant had said.
Not wasting any time, off they went to inspect Don Romualdo's house. It had quite an ample street front with a dried-out garden protected by a tall, rusted, wrought iron fence. The paint on the exterior walls was flaking and the portico's hinges screeched. The windows, boarded with thick wooden planks could hardly let some daylight in, enough to tell apart in semidarkness the heavily dusted furniture with some pieces still covered with canvas. But the girls were so thrilled that nothing in there seemed funereal or scary in the least. On the contrary, diligent and hard-working as they were, soon started the revamping process that'd take those chambers back to their old glory, so they intended.
Before too long, they were already installed and quite busy not only by keeping up with all the work they now had but with the refurbishing of the house's immense spaces in extreme decay. During the first days, their eyebrows white with dust while singing out loud, the sisters worked tirelessly, inspired, and thankful for the twist of fate their existence had taken, and for the good people they had found in their way, starting with Doña Zenaida.
There was such an amount of work now that they had to labor nonstop, including nighttime to meet deadlines. For that, they established a grave shift, and, using the old Singer machine, one of them would try to finish what needed to be delivered the next day while the other two slept. It was a watch they had devised in the back porch with a view to the dark, extensive, tree-lined patio where they yet had to start cleaning.
Everything went smooth and according to plan for months as the production was being delivered on time. Every night, sitting by the machine, one of them would continue finishing the orders to be sent out the next morning. It was not until one night like any other, when Lola, out of the corner of the eye noticed some unexpected motion coming from the crumbling shacks at the back of the patio. Frozen in disbelief, she remained motionless. A man, seemingly in his 50s, came traversing the patio in its entirety without uttering a word and without even glancing at her.
Lola had plenty of time to thoroughly observe in detail the facial features and outfit of the surprise visitor. Frowned, he looked introverted and worried, and his slow walk denoted an anguished and pensive person. But he vanished the same way he appeared as he reached the dark spot at the end of the patio. Taken by surprise, Lola had remained fixed on her chair until she regained her breath and realizing that that person could be in dire need of help, ran after him worriedly, only to find herself alone in darkness under the trees. Went back to work, hardly waiting for the sunrise to tell her sisters what had taken place during her shift.
Evangelina and Rosa didn't believe her at first. They blamed it on her lack of sleep and the imposing solitude of the place because no one had seen anything out of the ordinary after all those months since they moved in. But Lola stood firm and that left them deep in thought. Everything continued to be uneventful and neither Rosa nor Evangelina ever saw anything out of the ordinary during their turns. Not even Lola saw a thing again, which made them doubt her original version.
However, not too long after the incident had almost been forgotten that the turn to behold the apparition was now Evangelina's. This time she got to see the same occurrence. So, did Rosa, and then, of course, again Lola! Each one on their shifts.
Holding their breath, they watched how the man performed the same stroll quite often without ever glancing at any of them as if they were invisible. Yet, the man's appearance was so harmless and humble that after a while his midnight walk became commonplace. So much that the sisters affectionately started naming him Don Puntualito, or the little punctual one, amused by the punctuality with which he appeared every night without changing his routine. He'd walk across the patio and as always, disappear under the trees.
It came the time when he ceased to appear. Six months went by during which the girls being as busy as they were always, hardly ever mentioned him at all. They were that busy!
Until one night when least expected, during Evangelina's shift, that the apparition showed up again. Completely taken by surprise, Evangelina let out a spontaneous, and loud, shriek: “Don Puntualito!”. Immediately, the man stopped, frozen in his tracks. Then, after one or two seconds, turned his entire body to face Evangelina who was by now open-mouthed with terror. Said Don Romualdo: “You are the first person to address me. Thank you so very much!”. Trembling and astounded, Evangelina couldn't help but remain there in one piece, her eyes open wide, unable to close her mouth.
The man went on: “I need you to do me three favors, little girl. Please, order a requiem mass for me, pay a monetary debt to the store of Don Ramon Quijano, and recover a trunk buried right under where you are now sitting to be shared among you all three. You deserve it. You have taken good care of my house with the same love my wife used to and brought happiness back to where we once merrily lived. Do you think you can do everything I’m asking you to do?”. With no time to recover and on the brink of passing out, Evangelina could only nod her consent while Don Puntualito, rather than proceeding towards the shadows, as usual, this time just faded away!
She rushed to rouse the other two who, still half asleep listened incredulously to her hurried account. “And what if it's a thing of the devil?”. Asked Rosa. “No, how about if it’s something good, instead?”. Retorted Lola. “Remember that there were gold mines in this town!”. “Whatever it might be, we need first to order a Mass of the dead and then pay Don Romualdo's debt at the store of Ramón Quijano”. Sentenced Evangelina. “We'll see afterward how to take care of the last errand. God forbid it'll bring us bad luck now that we are thriving. We need to give it a good thought before taking any action!”. Off they went the very next day looking for the store of Don Ramon Quijano, but no one had even heard of that name. Not until they found an elderly woman who stared at them mystified before giving directions: “Go to Rayon Street at Matias Romero and ask around”. Once there, were told the yellow house across the street had been Don Ramon's store. A young woman came out to say that Ramon Quijano's entire family had moved away from town after Don Ramon’s death.
Next, the group went by the church to order the Mass for the dead and to pay Don Romualdo's debt. Next weekend, the trio attended mass to hear during the sermon how Don Ramon’s debt had been a post-mortem donation to the church in his name. This, elicited varied surprised reactions among some parishioners for they knew that the man had left a haunted house, and it was almost anathema to mention his name.
No more sightings of Don Romualdo occurred during the following weeks. Still, the girls were afraid of completing Don Puntualito’s last errand: digging the property, for what it might bring about. Yet, after much thought, they finally decided to extract whatever there was under the sewing machine at the back porch and hope for the best. So, keeping everything in absolute secret, proceeded to dig a 3 feet hole until they hit a wooden trunk filled with antique gold coins of the best karat quality.
All sweaty, they couldn't believe what they had found. They calculated it was close to 10 million dollars! Be that as it may, the sisters changed nothing in their work and life habits. They kept working as seamstresses conserving their humbleness the same way it had always been. They paid for their friend Doña Zenaida's funeral and helped out many families back at their village.
No one ever saw Don Puntualito again. But even though there was no more work at the machine after hours, some times a nightingale could be heard singing merrily in the obscure patio at dawn.